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Working with Gazza and teaching Italian to Robbie Keane - James Richardson on the glory years of Football Italia

The legendary host was this week’s guest on Behind the Lines.

IT WAS A very special edition of Behind the Lines on The42 membership this week, as our members were joined on a live virtual event by the incomparable James Richardson, host of The Totally Football Show and the fondly-remembered Football Italia on Channel Four. 

The full conversation is now available to listen to, so to get access to it along with the full 79-episode Behind the Lines archive, subscribe at members.the42.ie. And for a limited time, you can get €5 off an annual membership by using the promo code BTL. 

We took a trip down memory lane with James on Behind the Lines, as he looked back on his famous days in Italy.

Initially, Paul Gascoigne, then at Lazio, was supposed to be the host of Football Italia with James in a roving reporter role, but it quickly became clear that wouldn’t quite work. Gazza, however, frequently appeared on the show, a willing participant in the show’s many skits and sketches. 

“We staged some stuff with him for the cameras, but he never did anything truly outrageous”, said James of Gazza. “He reversed into my car once, he assured me it was accidentally. He would invariably have an entourage out from Newcastle or London, to keep him company in his Roman villa. What went on within those walls, I don’t know.

“One of the stories involved some chicken pies that had been brought out by friends from Newcastle, that he and Jimmy Five Bellies one night removed the meat from and put cat feces into. They were for other members of the entourage, and by all accounts they were eaten.

“This is more banal by comparison, but one time we were going to film at an upscale hotel in Rome, and I drove in with Paul. As he was driving out in the car, the buzz developed in the traffic around him. All of a sudden you had these swarms of scooters coming up, guys with scarves around their wrist, banging on the window. ‘Gazza, Gazza! Grande, Grande!”

“Many of these were Roma fans, that’s the most extraordinary thing. Most Lazio players had Roma fans spitting at their windows and vice versa but Gazza transcended all of that, because everyone loved him.

“I think the fact he was English made him slightly extraneous to the Roma/Lazio divide. And Paul was never someone to trot out the same lines ahead of the derby, ‘we hate this and we hate that’ and he was just happily playing football.

“I think the biggest thing was Italian fans, the hardcore ones especially, they very much modelled themselves on what they consider to be the English notion of a hooligan. The fact Paul was this guy who came along and would drink beer, burp into microphones and just do outrageous stuff and generally act like one of them, they felt he was one of them, but with the talent to be one of the best footballers in the league.” 

Our members shared their memories of their favourite scenes from the show, including one in which Jimbo tried to teach a young Robbie Keane some Italian, following his move to Inter Milan.

“All I can remember is going to visit his apartment in Milan, and him enthusing about this film he had seen called American Pie. We talked about American Pie for a bit. I told him about Gazza Pie, which was infinitely funnier.

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“There was another one with Mancini. He had this reputation as being a very prickly character, and the opening line was, ‘We are here with an exclusive interview this week with the most disagreeable man in Italian football’, and Roberto Mancini said, ‘No.’

“I said, ‘I’m sorry, Roberto, I thought you disagreed with everything everyone says’, and he said, ‘No.’

“‘Ah I get it. This week we…don’t have an interview with Roberto Mancini.’

“‘Yes you do.’

“And then so on and so forth.” 

You can listen to the full interview by subscribing at members.the42.ie. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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